Trade fair for an innovative marine industry

30 | 31 janUARY > 1ST fEBRUARY 2024, Marseille

Trade fair for an innovative marine industry

30 | 31 janUARY > 1ST fEBRUARY 2024, Marseille

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Tuesday 30 January

A long history of short-sea

Vertom Group is one of the largest European operators in short-sea shipping. Warner Warnders, Managing Director of Vertom Bereederungs GmbH, shared the story with Inside Marine. Report written by Phil Nicholls and Hannah Barnett.

Vertom was launched in 1974 in Rotterdam by Ton Pols, with only 20 employees and three ships. The name Vertom was derived from the name of its first vessel. MV Vera Tomson. Even from its early days, Vertom focused on short-sea shipping

Growth at Vertom was steady, opening offices in Belgium in 1981 and establishing a liner service to the Caribbean in the mid-1980s. Vertom Shipping UK Ltd began in 1999 and the first port offices were soon opened. The merger in 2010 with Unity Beheer (UCS) expanded the scope of Vertom operations with boosted employee numbers and ten more vessels.

By 2016, Vertom was performing well in short-sea shipping and expanded the fleet as a result. Purchases from the second-hand market steadily enlarged the fleet and broadened Vertom’s capabilities. Alongside the growing shipping portfolio, Vertom expanded over the years by adding agency services in the Netherlands, then Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and eventually across Europe.

In 2021, the company acquired the UK-based Cory Brothers Shipping Agency Ltd to form VertomCory, a branch of Vertom, offering assorted agency and logistics services. Another joint venture was launched in February 2022, with Vertom Group partnering with Strand Shipping AS, a shipbroking firm from Mo i Rana in Helgeland, northern Norway.

The German-based Vertom Bereederungs GmbH office has over 40 employees, while the umbrella Vertom Group employs over 400 staff shore-based and 1,000 seafarers. Around 60% of the Vertom crew are typically at sea at any one time.

After the steady program of vessel purchases over the past six years, the Vertom Group fleet stands at over 90 ships in commercial management. Warner Warnders, Managing Director of the German office, explained the Vertom fleet specialisation: “Our vessels are between 3,500 to 10,000DWT, so we have a broad variety of vessels available to serve our clients.”  

Vessel length is between 80 to 120m. In addition to being a shipowner, Vertom also offers chartering of dry bulk and general cargo and tanker chartering. Vertom is a commercial agent for Europe Caribbean Line running bi-weekly liner services to Suriname and Guyana. The South Caribbean Service runs monthly to the ports of Antwerp, Hull, Gijon, Georgetown, Paramaribo, Point Lisas, Matanzas/Puerto Ordaz and Rotterdam. In consequence, Vertom’s routes are 80% European and 20% worldwide.

The steady expansion in the fleet was also reflected in Vertom’s turnover. Minor financial growth from 2010 to 2015 turned into steady increases through to 2021. Mr Warnders is determined to maintain this trajectory: “Our approach to growth is focused on ensuring sustainability and long-term success. Rather than prioritising rapid expansion, we prioritise a healthy and measured approach to growth.”


A star fleet

To achieve these projected growth figures, Vertom Group has further bolstered its fleet. The company successfully launched Vertom PATTY and Vertom CYTA, with Vertom TOMMA set to launch in July 2023. In total, eight of these types of vessels are on order. Further deliveries are scheduled till 2025.

The vessels, built by Thecla Bodewes Shipyards in the Netherlands, are 7,000DWT diesel-electric multi-purpose dry cargo ships designed to meet Vertom’s requirements for providing tailor-made shipping solutions to clients. The LABRAX 7,000DWT cargo vessels feature CFD optimisation of the hull design to deliver fuel-efficient speed-power performance driven by a future proof modular electric propulsion system.

“The vessels were designed in close collaboration with Thecla Bodewes Shipyards and Groot Ship Design,” explained Mr Warnders. “We designed the new box-shaped cargo holds to ensure maximum loading flexibility and cargo intake. The vessel is fitted with an integrated power management system, diesel-electric propulsion system and a new propeller design. It was a huge success to bring Vertom PATTY into service. Vertom CYTA was recently launched and will join the fleet soon. The fuel reduction is between 20 to 30% compared with existing vessels.”

Vertom is investing wisely during the fleet expansion with one eye on sustainability issues.

“As we are focused on the short-sea business, we have different options compared to deep-sea shipping companies,” Mr Warnders explained. “Therefore, we decided our new general cargo vessels and mini-bulkers should be fitted with a hybrid-electrical power system, or an exchange system as we call it, because not only is it electric, but we can easily exchange the modules to methanol or hydrogen, for example, as the technology develops.”

The new fleet lowers the average age of Vertom vessels and make Vertom a market leader in the segment. The new ships are ‘ready for tomorrow’, delivering lower environmental impact, reduced CO2 emissions and better working conditions for the crew. Vertom devoted a lot of effort to innovate the entire ship system.

Sustainability is a driver for Vertom, a company that embraces new technologies emerging onto the market.

“As a team, we are looking at the options for our vessels to become more environmentally-friendly, we look for solutions which make it easier to maintain and improve the technical parts of our ships,” said Mr Wanders, who also confirmed Vertom has installed VentiFoils on one of the vessels in its fleet, with two more installations planned during 2023.


Full range of services

The close-supportive relationships Vertom enjoys with crews is just one aspect of what sets the group apart from the competition.

“Vertom offers clients a full range of services – including technical ship management,” Mr Warnders explained. “We have ownership, we have commercial management, we have agency, we can provide all our services to the highest standard, which is one of our main goals.

“We are in close contact with our customers in respect to the ship itself and preparations and all the cargo preparations or upcoming regulations. If they have questions, then we have all the answers at hand.”


Finding solutions together

This close cooperation also extends to Vertom’s suppliers. “This is where loyalty and good partnership is our main focus,” Mr Warnders said. “Once we have a supplier in place, we maintain strong contacts to ensure close cooperation. We build trust together and once we find reliable partners; we discuss everything with them and look for solutions together.”

Mr Warnders explained the challenge of recruiting new personnel for the Vertom Group. The Group searches for the right people who share the same passion for the shipping industry Mr Warnders feels. “I dearly appreciate my choice to work in shipping. Every day it proves to be the best decision I’ve ever made!”

“The daily routine is highly varied, ranging from tackling environmental projects or resolving an incident, to coordinating transportation of cargo. The people working in shipping are intelligent and very fond of their industry.”

It is no surprise that Vertom believes its employees are its most valuable assets. Sustainable employability and physical wellbeing are the key fundamentals of the group’s business culture. The Vertom Group’s mission for the future is to be an innovative, discerning, and socially responsible company: to be recognised as a leading maritime service provider.

With the arrival of the new class of vessels, Vertom looks well on course to reach its objectives and continue sailing towards steady and sustainable growth targets.